Working in a Slaughterhouse

(Inspired by the bowling-with-chickens incident in the US recently.)

Have there been any physiological studies of people who work in slaughterhouses? Does this sort of work drive people nuts?

I have no evidence at all, just a gut feeling. It has to be a nasty job, over years that alone can impact your personality. In addition, the act of killing day after day, month after month for years must (I think) make an imprint upon one’s personality.

So has this ever been studied? Am I being over-sensitive?

(BTW, in the holy city here is a HUGE abattoir for sacrificial meat. The meat is donated to charity. During the Hajj, they kill millions of animals in a very short time using traditional techniques. There is a job I don’t want!)

Over-sensitive. I’m sure all the Rabbis slitting throats in order to kill for Kosher meat aren’t any crazier than anyone that operates a bolt gun. I also think that the process has become automated. Far cry from big man with a killing hammer. My mother, my grandmothers, and about every other woman from the past killed chickens, plucked them, and gutted them whenever that they wanted to eat one without turning into raving lunatics. Goats are killed routinely here for barbecuing by slitting their throats, and the barbecuers are some of the nicest and most genorous folks that you will ever meat.

I have known people who’ve worked at slaugherhouses and they’re not psychotic or deranged, but there are negative effects to the job. The thing to realize is, it’s not the killing that causes the problems, it is the repetitive assembly-line structure of the packing plant. It is one of the few of this type of job left in this country; there used to be more of them before all the outsourcing of factory work. It can make you go crazy to do the same thing over and over again, to essentially become a human machine. It is this aspect of the slaughterhouse that causes stress, not the slaughter of animals per se.

When you are brought up surrounded by the business of raising animals for slaughter it isn’t any big deal.

One of the things that was common when I went to high school (1936-40) was field trips to the slaughter-packing houses in Sioux City. We started in the killing room, the muscular guy with the hammer at that time, and went right through to the end of the process. Those who worked there were just ordinary working folks just like any other business.

As has been said by others. Home killing of chickens is a regular occurence. It isn’t at all unusual for farmers to kill and butcher a pig and a steer every year.

Other than your personal opinion, anywhere I can go to find out about your theory?

I had a job this very summer requiring me to build cardboard carrying trays for seven hours at a time. This entails putting the flattened box on a flat surface, folding up the sides, folding the tabs at the top down into the slots formed by a recession in the sides and the bottom, turning the box around and doing the same thing on the other end. Sound easy? Do it 500 times.

At the end of each day my hands hurt like hell and my brain was repeating the folding motions over and over and over again, no matter what else I was trying to think about.

Don’t take my word for it; talk to any 30-or-so year veteran of a machine shop or factory assembly line, like my great-uncle. They will dream about going through the repetitive motions of their job.

In other words, it’s my opinion, but one formed from experience.

If you need facts about the ill effects of doing repetitive tasks all day, I’d suggest the UAW website. Search for ergonomics or safety.

On the anecdotal side, I know some guys who worked for a local pork packing house. It’s a reeeeeeeally small sample, so, statistically it’s meaningless. They’re all daft, to one degree or another.

I did some PubMed searches and I couldn’t find any specific study that addresses the effect of killing animals on the psychology of slaughterhouse workers.
But I did find this interesting article at
It gives a glimpse into the harsh lives of slaughterhouse workers and the socio-economic circumstances that could lead such workers to engage in less-than-“normal” behavior.

I had the (dis)pleasure of visiting a slaughterhouse in Tijuana, Mexico once. I was a lab assistant and had accompanied my boss there to collect fresh ovaries from slaughtered pigs for our research. It was dark, dirty, smelly, bloody and noisy with the panicked squeals of pigs being led to their doom. Just replace the pigs’ bodies with humans’ and you have my personal vision of what Hell must look like. One massive pig managed to escape and started running around the place, chased by a worker with a baseball bat. The pig stopped right next to me and the worker proceeded to gleefully bash its head in, spraying me with blood and brain matter in the process. Clearly, this individual was not “normal”, and it wouldn’t be too great a leap to blame his workplace for his behavior. (or, maybe he was just playing “freak out the yankee”, if so, it worked)

I had a professor in a management course comment on the high stress level, and low job satisfaction associated with working in a meat packing plant. The possibility of losing a finger (or limb) or getting hit by one of those big carcasses isn’t the same as sitting at a desk. If by “crazy” you mean “high stress” then I think you’re right.

I worked for a little while on the kill floor of a pork processing plant and it made me feel weird and weak-kneed. Seeing a pig headed to doom, the fear in his eyes, the squeal, is pretty bad. They are large enough and bright enough to make empathy all the easier. But seeing it repeated on a production line for minutes, hours, and days felt much worse. I left this feeling like something had changed inside, like maybe my brain had been bathed in some evil hormone or something.
I also worked a while inspecting little plastic patches on a conveyor belt. Every morning they’d go by right to left. At lunchtime we could all change sides so they’d go left to right for the afternoon. So I had dreams about the little brown spots we were looking for, and about everything spinning around me all the time from staring at the motion.
The depressing monotony of menial production line work is one thing, and the horror of production line killing of intellegent and emotional mammals is another - in my limited experience.

I’m sorry, this is GQ and I honestly want to say this is the GQ spirit of fighting ignorance: we (the USA) is still a manufacturing powerhouse even considering all of the manufacturing jobs that have been converted (you can’t lose something that’s not tangible, and most of them are differently employed) lost since the late 1970’s. I feel that if I were to look at the Labor department’s statistics, there’d be way, way more manufacturing jobs than slaughterhouse jobs, for example.

Honestly, my point is, workplace ergonomics and prevention of RSI’s is a huge, huge sub-industry in itself.

Well there did used to be more of them; there’s no debating it. It doesn’t matter that we’re still a powerhouse.

I think one thing you guys are seriously missing about this whole thing about RSIs and such is that the physical labor isn’t the issue.

When I worked restaurants as a cook, the 8-12 hour days of cooking 600-1000 steaks per day did strange things to me. I am normally a very laid back, nice guy. Put me in a high-stress, somewhat dangerous environment doing the same 10 things over and over, and I change. I get really pissy, lose my inner-voice filter, get that “lean and hunrgy” look on my face (you know that “I’m gonna kill you with this knife and enjoy the look on your face” look) and generally want to find new, fun and interesting ways to destroy the human race (quite literally too, I had thought of three different plans). Sure, my shoulders, hands and arms hurt. Yes, my legs and back hurt. All of us could deal with those problems. But the stress of constant “Now, now, faster, faster, more, more!” really sets a human up for bad psychological stuff. I do not doubt that these jobs are very much like it. It is one thing to kill 365 chickens a year for food. It is entirely another when you kill 365,000 per year and be treated almost like the chickens you are killing.

I hope this isn’t too preachy, but I know many people (not saying necessarily you) who just do not understand the blue collar human and the harshness of the work.

You’ve all got it backwards. Doing the repetitive killing doesn’t drive people nuts…It’s that people of this caliber can only work in places like meat packing plants. Other, more balanced, talented, or brighter people get moved over to the canning department. Its a “natural selection” process.

Been there, done that, got promoted, changed jobs and left town (because I had the natural resources to do so…the guys who didn’t are still throwing meat.)